Police opened fire at a political rally in the southeastern town of Rajbiraj this Monday, when protesters had begun throwing stones at each other. A teenaged boy and three others were pronounced dead at a local hospital about 80km east of the protest, according to Sarbendra Khanal, spokesman for Nepal Police.
Khanal says 40 security officers were injured, four vehicles were set ablaze and the highway was obstructed by protesters. Al Jazeera says thousands of security officers were deployed to the site of the protests. According to the police, the leaders of the party that organized the rally were escorted back to their homes in the east. They are the Unified Marxist and Leninist parties.
Al Jazeera says the opposition, who began throwing rocks, were members of the Madhesi ethnic community, who have been demanding amendment to the Constitution since before the elections were announced. Although they make up a majority of the population, the new constitution calls for the creation of 7 provinces that would split the Madhesi population in such a way that they would become minorities in each province. The regions are designed to incorporate both highland and flatland, with the Madhesi populating the strip of flatland along the Indian border.
The Madhesi are concerned the provincial allocation will negatively impact their ability to make their voices heard in the government and have their interests recognized. This population already feels marginalized due to the high rate of cross-border marriage and the resulting physical difference between them and so-called ‘pure-blooded’ Nepalese. Given they already feel discriminated against, they are worried that the constitutional changes will have further negative implications for them.
The Madhesi are not the only population that have issues with the drafted constitution. Nepalese women are campaigning against it. New information shared through the Kathmandu Post states that the new constitution will discriminate against women in citizenship matters. It stipulates that the children of a Nepali woman and foreign man cannot obtain Nepali citizenship unless the father attains citizenship prior to the birth of the child. However, if the father is Nepali, he can pass on his citizenship to his children regardless of the nationality of his spouse. This citizenship law will also disproportionately affect the Madhesi communities along the Indian border, given their population is over-representative of cross-border marriages.
The Nepalese government recently announced the upcoming election date as May 14th, for more than 700 local bodies. The last elections in the country were held in May of 1997. In preparation, the Election Commission is working out the logistics, including where to print ballot papers and updating the voters’ list, according to the Himalayan Times. The Commission will likely seek support from donor countries which have supported Nepal in previous years, such as India, China and Japan.
Although many feel the drafting of the constitution was rushed and without dialogue between the Nepali people and the largely white, high-caste leaders who created it, it is not all problematic. In fact, the new legislature comes as a relief to many after seven years of political uncertainty. Many are focusing on the positive fact that a constitution has been developed at all. People of this mind feel the unfavourable aspects are to be viewed as challenges for the future, relying on the possibility of amendment. Additionally, the constitution incorporates quotas for women, indigenous communities, and lower-caste groups to serve on constitutional bodies. Furthermore, the Blue Diamond Society, representative of the Nepali LGBTQ population, has praised the constitution’s recognition of “gender and sexual minority people” as disadvantaged and the incorporation of their right to participate into the document’s language.
Moving forwards, some fear violence and some are relying on the incremental victory to bring positive change to the country.
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